Do children lose their guardian angels if they reject Christ?

Q. I’ve heard it suggested that children lose their guardian angels if they reject Christ once they reach the “age of accountability.” I would be interested to know what you think.

The Bible doesn’t say explicitly that children have guardian angels. I’ll discuss in a moment where that idea comes from. But let’s suppose that they do. What would be the purpose of that?

For one thing, angels would be assigned to guard children from danger, because children are inexperienced, they lack information, they don’t always reason well, and so left to themselves they can make unsafe choices. However, I think that beyond that, angels would be assigned to children to help steer them towards faith, using their mysterious invisible influence towards that end. This would be consistent with what the book of Hebrews says about angels, that they are “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.”

If that is the case, then I can’t imagine an angel abandoning a child, or for that matter God taking an angel away from a child, because they didn’t make use of an opportunity to accept Christ. This would only make the child less likely to make use of the next opportunity that came along. I’ve just suggested that the very reason for assigning an angel in the first place is that children typically don’t make the best choices because they are immature and not fully informed. So I don’t see why God or an angel would regard a choice that a child made when they barely knew right from wrong (i.e. they’d just reached the “age of accountability”) as so fully informed, mature, and therefore definitive that influences that might help lead them to salvation should be withdrawn, as if of no further use. If anything, I can imagine God sending more influences into a child’s life to help them understand their loving Savior better so that they would embrace him at a future opportunity.

The idea that children do have guardian angels comes from something that Jesus says to his disciples in response to their question about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. The Gospel of Matthew records that he called a little child over to sit among them and then said, “Those who humble themselves like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus then went on to tell them,  “Be careful that you don’t look down on one of these little ones. I say to you that their angels in heaven are always looking into the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (This means that the angels “always have access” to the Father in heaven, as some translations put it.)

If these are guardian angels, then presumably this would mean not only that the angels pray for the children, but also that they protest any mistreatment and ask God to punish it. It’s possible, however, that by this point in Jesus’ teaching, “little ones” means not “children” but “young believers” or “simple believers.” Even if it does mean “children,” it’s not necessarily the case that there is one angel assigned to each child. Instead, there could be a group of angels whose role was to pray for the salvation and protection of children.

We simply don’t have enough to go on to make a definitive case from the Bible that there are or are not guardian angels. But as I’ve said, if there are, I can’t imagine God pulling a guardian angel away just when one was needed most—when a child failed to recognize and answer the loving call of their Savior. It seems to me that instead the guardian angel would roll up its sleeves, rub its hands together, and say, “Let’s see if we can’t help some more here.”

The traditional role of guardian angels, to protect children from danger, is illustrated in this 1920s print by the German artist Lindberg. Such pictures were often hung above children’s beds.

Where did the “Legion” of demons go after the swine died?

Q. After Jesus cast the “Legion” of demons into the swine, where did the demons go after the swine died?

As I discuss in the post linked below, it seems most likely that these demons would then have roamed the earth looking for other beings to occupy. The Bible doesn’t tell us as much as we’d like to know about how these things work, but it does give us clear warnings not to open ourselves up to evil influences, and we need to take those warnings to heart.

Why didn’t Jesus destroy demons when he cast them out?

Why were the disciples afraid when Jesus appeared?

Duccio di Buoninsegna,
Duccio di Buoninsegna, “Jesus’ Appearance Behind Locked Doors,” 1308-11.

Q. Why were the disciples afraid when Jesus appeared?

I’m assuming you mean to ask why the disciples were afraid when Jesus appeared to them after his resurrection. Luke explains in his gospel that they were frightened and terrified because they thought they were seeing a ghost. This was even after they’d gotten several independent reports that Jesus had risen from the dead, and even though he said to them, as soon as he arrived, “Peace be with you.” But fear is actually not an unusual reaction when someone in the Bible encounters a visitor from the spiritual world.

Gideon, for example, realizes that he’s been speaking with the angel of the Lord when the angel first sets on fire the food he has served him, just by touching it with tip of his staff, and then vanishes. God has to tell Gideon, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

Similarly, when a mighty angel appears to Daniel, he collapses on the ground, and then gets up “trembling.” (Understandably, because the angel’s “body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.“) Daniel, too, is told, “Do not be afraid.”

When the angel of the Lord comes to tell Zechariah that his prayers have been answered and he and his wife are about to have a son (John the Baptist), even though this is good news, Zechariah is “startled and gripped with fear.” The angel reassures him, “Do not be afraid.”

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he once walked on the Sea of Galilee to join the disciples in their boat far out on the water. Matthew records that “when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.'”

And in the book of Revelation, John reports an experience similar to Daniel’s. He says that when he first saw Jesus in his exalted glory, “I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid.‘”

I think it would only be natural for us humans to be startled and alarmed if we encountered a heavenly visitor. But it’s very encouraging to read in the Bible how God always reassures each frightened person by saying, “Don’t be afraid.”  This helps us realize that whenever God steps into our lives—even if we don’t experience a supernatural appearance, but instead sense a divine hand at work in our circumstances—we can be confident that God has come to bring about good, not to harm us. So even if we’re startled (and maybe it’s good for us to be shaken up by the reality of spiritual things from time to time), we don’t need to be afraid.

Why didn’t Jesus destroy demons when he cast them out?

Q. In any of the situations where Jesus cast out demons, why didn’t he kill them so they would not enter another person?

Matthew’s gospel relates how, when Jesus was casting out demons in the region of the Gadarenes, they cried out, “Son of God, what do you want with us? Have you come here to punish us before the time for us to be judged?” The encounters between Jesus and demons described in the gospels are typically brief and cryptic, but we can at least tell from this one that God has set a time for demons to be judged and punished. But as these demons knew, that time had not yet come during the ministry of Jesus, and they successfully appealed to be sent into a herd of pigs instead.

The reasons why Jesus allowed such demons to continue to roam the earth, at least for a while, have to do, I believe, with the need for there to be freedom in order for people to make the choice to love God and others. God could have removed all sources of suffering and discord in the world, but this would have been at the cost of making true freedom impossible and depriving the world of the fruits of freedom, including love, courage, creativity, and so forth.

One of Jesus’ parables shows how God wanted people to respond instead to the fact that demons remained at large even after they had been cast out of their victims.  Jesus said, “What happens when an evil spirit comes out of a person? It goes through dry areas looking for a place to rest. But it doesn’t find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives there, it finds the house empty. The house has been swept clean and put in order. Then the evil spirit goes and takes with it seven other spirits more evil than itself. They go in and live there. That person is worse off than before.”

Jesus actually told this parable about his own generation as a whole, to illustrate how, by rejecting his true message of the kingdom of God, they were leaving themselves open to the influence of false messiahs who would lead them astray into destruction.  (This happened during the two Jewish-Roman wars in the decades that followed.) But for the parable to make this point by application, its story needs to make a valid point of its own, and that is that people who have been freed from a demon are responsible themselves to fill their lives with godly and wholesome influences that will discourage any demons from ever returning.

In other words, while Jesus didn’t destroy the demons he cast out, he brought the truth of the kingdom of God, and ultimately he sent the Holy Spirit, to occupy the place the demons had left so that they would never try to fill it again.  And I think this is how we need to think about all of the evil and destructive influences around us as we live in these “in-between times,” when the kingdom of God has already been inaugurated but not yet completely established.  God has not yet removed all these influences from the earth.  But he has sent other influences that can effectively displace them in our own lives, and increasingly in our world, if we recognize and accept our responsibility to welcome and cultivate these life-giving endowments.

A painting by Vangelo di Marco of Jesus casting out the demons from the Gerasene demoniac. Why didn’t Jesus destroy the demons instead of allowing them to remain at large afterwards?

Can Satan hear our thoughts?

Q. Someone once told me that God hears our silent prayers, but that Satan can not, and that if we want to address Satan, we must speak the words to him out loud.  From what you know, is that a fair assessment?

My first thought in response to your question is, “Why would anyone want to address Satan?”  I know that in some circles there is a practice of “claiming authority” over Satan, commanding him to depart, etc., but I’d be very careful of that kind of thing.

I don’t recall any place in the Bible where a human being directly addresses Satan.  (Jesus said to Peter, who didn’t want him to go to the cross, “Get behind me, Satan,” but that was actually a reference to Peter’s motives—“You do not have in mind the concerns of God”—not a direct address to Satan.)

Jude warns us that even the archangels do not address the devil on their own:  “Even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil . . . did not dare to condemn him for slander himself but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’”  So I would not address Satan at all, either in spoken words or in silent thoughts.

A wise man, an authority on spiritual warfare, once told me that instead, “The best way to chase away the darkness is to turn on the lights.”  As he saw it, when our individual lives and community gatherings are full of love, joy, holiness, and praise, the forces of darkness simply don’t hang around.

But perhaps another concern here is whether Satan can listen in on our thoughts in order to get information he can use to tempt and entrap us.  Here’s what we need to realize:  Satan is a finite being.

We often speak of him as if he had infinite attributes like God—omniscience (knowing everything), omnipresence (being everywhere at the same time), etc.  When people all over the world address Satan as if he were present with them, that suggests omnipresence.  When lots of people say “the devil made me do it” they’re suggesting that he has comprehensive knowledge to use in temptation. But he doesn’t.  Satan’s knowledge and presence are limited because he is a finite created being.

So where is the devil, if he’s not omnipresent?  At one point the Bible depicts him standing before God and accusing us.  (The word for “devil” in Greek is diabolos or “accuser.”)  At another point the Bible says he “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  But no matter where he is at any given moment, he is finite, and so not able to be everywhere and know everything.

What we are probably encountering instead when we feel as if “the devil is tempting us” is the continuum that the Bible refers to as “the world, the flesh, and the devil.”  Wrong thoughts, attitudes, and actions are fueled by “the world” (the planet-wide conspiracy to value things other than as God values them), “the flesh,” (everything in us that resists the cross, that is, living a sacrificial life for God), and “the devil” (which to my mind includes all evil supernatural beings, in league with one another and their leader against God).

I don’t think we should spend a lot of time trying to tease out which part of the world-flesh-devil continuum we’re up against at any given point.  Instead, we should “turn on the lights” by using our wills to choose positive thoughts, attitudes, and actions.  As Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

 

Why did Paul silence a spirit in Philippi that was speaking the truth about him?

Q.  When Paul was in Philippi, he commanded a fortune-telling spirit in the name of Jesus Christ to leave a woman who had been following his team for many days shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”  This raises a lot of questions.  Couldn’t it have been considered that the spirit was doing good, in that the woman was announcing the way to ‘the Way’? If Paul were going to silence the spirit, why didn’t he do this sooner? On the other hand, why didn’t Paul just let the woman be, if he’d already put up with her for so long?
 
Seems to be a good lesson here, insofar as “testing the spirits” is concerned.  Can you think of other examples, perhaps where people might even claim that they “have a word from the Lord,” but those people should instead be silenced—some immediately, and others maybe after many days?  Seems like a tall order for leaders of the church today—or any time for that matter—to be able to discern.

I think Paul finally silenced the spirit when he realized that all the attention was going to “that crazy woman shouting”—even though she was shouting a valuable truth—rather than to the message he and his colleagues were preaching.  I think Paul waited as long as he did because he recognized precisely what you asked about—that the spirit might be considered to be making a positive contribution.  But eventually, I believe, he recognized that it was doing more harm than good, distracting rather than attracting.  I think that in all of this Paul showed both patience and discernment of exemplary quality.

As for today, you’re right, it calls for very fine discernment to know when a factually truthful message is being delivered in such a way that it’s doing more harm than good.  We need to consider not just the content but the effect of words and their tone, expression, and spirit.

Here’s one example—I once attended a public prayer meeting where a participant went on and on, praying for valuable things, but essentially hogging all the time and not giving anyone else a chance to contribute.  Finally one of the leaders respectfully asked him to stop and give others an opportunity to pray as well.  The man realized his fault and immediately said “Bless you, brother” to the leader, very humbly, and went silent.  That felt like good discernment all around.

Things get more complicated when it comes to matters like doctrinal disputes, social hot-button issues, and matters of practice on which the Christian community is divided.  One person might feel compelled to speak (to “bear witness to the truth”), while others might feel they were doing more harm than good by the way they were speaking.  A tall order for discernment, indeed, but a challenge that church leaders must try to meet, with fear and trembling, and with close reliance on the Holy Spirit.

Does praying in tongues keep the devil from eavesdropping?

Q. I’m reading a book on prayer and one thing it says is that speaking in tongues is a purer form of worship because it excludes our carnal thoughts. It says that another benefit is that Satan will not understand the language. Wouldn’t Satan be well versed in all languages?

When it comes to questions like this, I think it’s important to follow the principle, “Do not go beyond what is written,” as Paul advised the Corinthians. He meant not to select or reject teachers based on issues that the Scriptures do not identify as essential. But I think his advice captures equally well the importance of making the case for or against spiritual practices based on what the Bible actually says about them, not on anything the Bible doesn’t say.

The question here has to do with “speaking in tongues,” that is, speaking in a language that one has acquired directly as a gift from God, rather than through upbringing, immersion, or formal study.  This really is the “gift of languages,” and that is what I will call it in the rest of this post, since the Greek word for “tongue” and “language” is the same and the sense of the word in this context is clearly “language,” as in, “my mother tongue is English.”  I personally believe that this gift is attested not just in the Scriptures, but also throughout church history, and that it remains available to believers today.

Maronite Pentecost icon

As I understand it from Scripture, the gift of languages is given for at least threepurposes.  One is to allow the good news about Jesus to be proclaimed in a language that the hearers will understand, even if the messengers don’t know that language.  This happened most famously on the day of Pentecost, when “Jews from every nation under heaven” gathered in Jerusalem and “each one heard their own language being spoken” as the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to speak those languages. But I’ve also heard present-day missionaries describe how, when they went to a region whose language or dialect they didn’t speak, their words supernaturally came out in the form their listeners could understand.

Another purpose for the gift of languages, according to the Bible, is to bring an authoritative word to a gathering of Jesus’ followers.  When a message is spoken in a language that is given as a supernatural gift, and it is then interpreted by someone who has that ability equally as a gift, this attests to the divine source of the message.  Even so, Paul tells the Corinthians, “The others should weigh carefully what is said,” testing it against the wisdom and teaching of the Scriptures before accepting it as a word from God.  I believe we are given an example of this process in the Old Testament when Daniel interprets the handwriting on the wall.

The third purpose for the gift of languages that I find explained in the Bible is for prayer.  I believe the rationale for this application of the gift is the same one that Paul gives in Romans in the case of prayer that takes the form of wordless yearning: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.”  In this case God gives not just the language, but the words themselves, as a spiritual gift that helps a person pray more effectively when they otherwise wouldn’t know what to pray for.

But notice what the Bible doesn’t say about this.  It doesn’t say anywhere that praying in a divinely granted language is some form of “secret code” between us and God that the devil can’t understand.  So I don’t think we should claim this as a benefit of the practice.  “Not going beyond what is written” in this case saves us from having to speculate about how many languages the devil understands and this frees our energies for reflection on what the Bible actually does say.

As for whether praying in a divinely granted language “excludes our carnal thoughts,” it makes sense that this would be the case, but we should not see this as an unmixed blessing.  Paul notes that “if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.”  In other words, because he does not understand the language he is speaking, he is not learning from the Holy Spirit’s example how to pray more genuinely and effectively in situations like the one he’s facing. 

Paul explains in his second letter to the Corinthians how important it is to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” While it might be advantageous in the short term, particularly in a dire situation that we don’t even know how to pray about, to bypass our carnal thoughts and immature tendencies, in the long term we are called to develop a spiritual mind and mature character.  In other words, if gifting us with a prayer language is one of the ways in which the “Spirit helps us in our weakness,” that should not be something that keeps us from ever addressing that weaknesses.  We need to take our carnal thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ, not continually bypass them.  But I think we’ll find that the more mature and obedient we become, the more we will follow Christ into situations where we desperately need His help–so there will be a positive self-reinforcing cycle here.

All things considered, I wouldn’t say from the Bible that praying in a divinely granted language is “purer” or “better” than other forms of prayer. But it is one genuine expression of a gift that God wants to be exercised by those to whom it is given to build up the whole body of Christ.

I hope this is helpful!